Fresh outlook

With the debate raging in government and the media about so called “junk food” some categories have suffered badly, but for a fresh and chilled food supplier like Swithenbank Foods each new report can only add to its prospects.

Not surprisingly then, the new 20,000sq ft depot it opened at Enfield in London in October has seen rapid expansion with sales and volume through the depot 26% ahead of targets. As a part of the Bidvest Group, Swithenbank is a sister company to 3663 and delivers to its depots, but the company also supplies a wide range of foodservice and catering customers direct.

The new depot is the first southern-based outlet for the company, which previously serviced all its customers from its site in Bradford. At its opening, Andrew Watson, director of Swithenbank Foods, said the new site would enable the company to save 500,000 food miles a year. With produce from the Netherlands, for example, instead of travelling from a port in the south, up to Bradford, and then back down to its customers in the south, it would be delivered to the depot in Enfield, providing significant environmental and cost savings.

Watson said the new depot would also enable Swithenbank to provide an enhanced service to customers. “Our customers include major hotel chains, private healthcare establishments and staff restaurants, situated the length and breadth of the country. By having depots in both the Midlands and the South we will be able to deliver even fresher produce even quicker than before.

“Being part of the 3663 business we have always been able to guarantee delivery day one for day two anywhere in the UK. The new facility in Enfield will enable us to provide daily deliveries. Today’s chefs, from top hotels to schools and colleges, are so in tune with healthy eating that they want their produce to be as fresh as possible. For locally grown produce, say in Kent, we will be looking to make products picked by 6pm available on the plate by 6am the next day. You can’t get fresher than that.”

The new depot was developed at a site that was previously a 3663 frozen depot, and extensive changes had to be carried out. A pound;130,000 refrigeration plant was installed and the depot features a chilled marshalling area so that temperatures can be maintained while products are unloaded and placed in the new chiller.

The site also features a ripening room, a facility which is used by a number of major retailers but which Watson believes is the first in the wholesale sector. The room uses warmer temperatures and ethylene, a gas produced naturally by fruit, to accelerate the ripening process. Watson says: “Chefs insist on ripe ready to eat fruit and this facility enables us to ensure we can offer it to them.”

All of the 20 staff from the previous depot were retained so one of the challenges facing them was to adapt to a wide new range of products and ensuring they know how to identify them and how they should be handled. To help them they received six weeks of training at the company’s Bradford site. In addition to fresh produce and chilled provisions the depot also supplies a range of speciality fine foods such as morrell mushrooms, olives and saffron.

In total the depot now stocks 750 lines, 100 more than when it opened, and is buying eight new vehicles to meet customer demand. Due to the large amount of business the depot is receiving, it has taken on a driver and seven additional warehouse staff.

Steve Hall, depot general manager, said: “Customer feedback has been fantastic and I’m really pleased that we are performing so well. We are doing lots of staff training and we are tailoring weekly training sessions to address any issues raised by staff and customers – resolving issues before they become a problem.”

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